Arba Minch is a city of about 70,000 people, in the southwest part of Ethiopia, approximately 500 km from Addis Ababa. It is a beautiful area of mountains, lakes, banana and mango farms, and lush green everywhere you look.
When I was growing up in the 1980s, Ethiopia had been struck by a severe famine due to drought, and the picture that I had in my head of Ethiopia was a dry, brown land. I have been traveling to teach in Ethiopia for three years and this was my first trip outside of Addis Ababa. That childhood picture has now finally been changed.
One of our partners in Ethiopia is the Kale Heywet Church, the largest evangelical church, with more than 10,000 local churches and twelve million members. They have established a Business as Mission office, and Yoseph Bekele is the BAM ministry director. Discipling leaders in the marketplace was a vision that he had in 2008, which finally came to be in 2017. He is doing an amazing job of preaching the message of “work as worship” across Ethiopia and developing teams in each region.
Arba Minch is in one of the eleven regions. The General-Secretary of this zonal region for the Kale Heywet Church is responsible for 1200 churches. He spent seven years studying in the UK and then returned to Ethiopia where he was the first to introduce the apple and moringa to Ethiopia, choosing to work with farmers in rural areas in order to develop agriculture. Many times, I’m told, people pleaded with him to come to lead the church in the region but he refused. Five years ago he finally agreed. He came to the DML workshop for pastors and church leaders in jeans – something you almost never see in Africa from a leader at a formal meeting for pastors – but it spoke of his humility and his commitment to being real and coming alongside real people. In his introductory message that morning, he said that Christianity is like a supermarket – open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said that our lives are made up of one story – not several stories – and because of that, wherever we are, whatever we do, we need to reflect one truth: the truth of who God is. He told the audience that in our work we need to reflect Christ so that people don’t get confused. That opened our time for a very rich two-day interaction with pastors and church leaders from this region.
The zonal headquarters for the Kale Heywet Church in Arba Minch has an interesting story. As we drove onto the compound, which is about 20 hectares, I saw huge rocks everywhere and a large bulldozer breaking up the rocks. I was told that twenty years ago, the government gave this land to the church, stating that it was full of rocks and no one would be able to do anything with it, so may as well give it to the church. A year ago, one of the leaders who is an accountant and this week will become a trainer for DML, proposed that they begin breaking up the rocks and selling them for construction. They calculated the costs on this and realized that this could bring in a nice income for the church and make the land usable.
It is a classic example of what to do when life gives you lemons: make lemonade. Another way to put that is what Satan means for evil, God can use for good.
The people in this region learned about DML this past April when some of the leaders attended our workshop in Addis. Since then Yoseph did another workshop in Arba Minch, and I learned that they now have nine groups of 100+ business members in each group, who are meeting every day for prayer at noon, and weekly for Bible study and discussion about business as mission. They are so encouraged that God sees their work as holy, and they are learning to do their work as worship. They are also learning to work together as collaborators and not as competitors. Soon, I pray, we will be able to offer the business training for them which will help to grow their businesses.
I wish I could convey how touched they are (their words) and excited they are to see this forgotten truth of Genesis 1 and 2. We had a number of business people in this workshop who are committed to working with their pastors to have a business ministry in their local church. Yoseph has a goal of seeing all Kale Heywet Churches have a business ministry in all 10,000 churches in five years. This is ambitious but he is an entrepreneur, businessman, and pastor who knows how to create the system to make this happen. Those of you who pray for this ministry and support it financially need to know of the impact that you are having. Last year October, we were able to send Yoseph to Kenya to learn from the team there and attend a training of trainers. He has made such progress in a year, with the support of the leaders of his denomination. This can’t be done without your prayers and support. [This year, in November, Yoseph and his assistant, newly hired Sitotaw, will travel to Ghana to meet all the other DML teams, to teach what they are doing and to learn from others as well.]
Please pray for Arba Minch and for their desire to reclaim the marketplace for Christ. Pray for the business people selling used clothing, housewares, the carpenters, metal fabricators, and weavers of hand-made cotton scarves. Pray for the mango and banana farmers, the cotton farmers, the coffee and tea farmers, and the crocodile and pig farmers.
The Arba Minch DML Leadership Team (Yoseph in the middle)
One of the DML Marketplace Ministers in his shop, proudly displaying the Amharic version of “30 Days in the Marketplace” Devotions that he and his wife are using daily.
The Arba Minch group
So beautiful – mountains with a different lake on each side.